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Social capital and accountability in grass-roots NGOs: The case of the Ugandan community-led HIV/AIDS initiative

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Purpose ‐ This paper aims to examine how small, grass-roots non-governmental organisations (NGOs) account for their actions and expenditures and how this accountability is discharged to, and benefits, the citizens they serve. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The paper draws on social capital theory to inform an interpretive analysis of documentary and interview evidence. The empirical material is derived from CHAI policy and project documents, coupled with interviews with 75 participants at the national, district and community levels of the CHAI programme. An illustrative case study is presented of an NGO that delivers welfare services to a Ugandan community affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Findings ‐ The research finds that, by harnessing the attributes of social capital, grass-roots NGOs can supplement formal accountability obligations to funders with effective "bottom-up" accountability to an often overlooked NGO stakeholder group ‐ the service beneficiaries, with positive outcomes for social services delivery. Research limitations/implications ‐ The research examines a single community-led public welfare initiative (the Ugandan CHAI), with a particular focus on one illustrative grass-roots NGO within that programme. Nevertheless, it offers insights into how accountability mechanisms can be reconceptualised to suit the context of developing countries where smaller NGOs increasingly operate. Practical implications ‐ The potential for less formal, "bottom-up" accountability mechanisms is illustrated using the case of the Ugandan community-led HIV/AIDS initiative (CHAI), a programme for delivering social services to communities ravaged by the effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Originality/value ‐ This research addresses the lack of empirical studies of smaller, grass-roots NGOs in the accounting literature. It also contributes to the under-researched area of how NGOs can appropriately discharge their accountability obligations to beneficiaries. The use of social capital theory to inform the study is also a novel contribution of this paper.

Keywords: Developing countries; Non-governmental organizations; Social accounting; Social capital; Trust; Uganda

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2011


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